The last place I locked wheels with Mike Butters was in Idaho. I’d just sold a silver-lead prospect and was proclaimin’ my prosperity with soundin’ brass and ticklin’ symbols. I was tuned up to G and singin’ quartettes with the bartender—opery buffet, so to speak—when in Mike walked. It was a bright morning out-side and I didn’t reco’nize him at first against the sunlight.
“Where’s that cholera-morbus case?” said he.
“Stranger, them ain’t sounds of cramps,” I told him. “It’s me singin’ ‘Hell Amongst the Yearlin’s.'” Then I seen who he was and I fell among him.
When we’d abated ourselves I looked him over.
“What you doin’ in all them good clothes?” I inquired.
“I’m a D.D.S.”
“Do tell! All I ever took was the first three degrees. Gimme the grip and the password and I’ll believe you.”
“That ain’t a Masonic symbol,” said he. “I’m a dentist—a bony fido dentist, with forceps and a little furnace and a gas-bag and a waitin’-rooms”. He swelled up and bit a hang-nail off of his cigar.
“Yep! A regular toothwright.”
Naturally I was surprised, not to say awed. “Have you got much of a practice?” I made bold to ask.
“Um-m—It ain’t what it ought to be, still I can’t complain. It takes time to work into a fashionable clienteel. All I get a whack at now is Injuns, but I’m gradually beginnin’ to close in on the white teeth.”
Now this was certainly news to me, for Mike was a foot-racer, and a good one, too, and the last time I’d seen him he didn’t know nothing about teeth, except that if you ain’t careful they’ll bite your tongue. I figured he was lyin’, so I said:
“Where did you get your degree—off of a thermometer?”
“Nothing of the tall. I run it down. I did, for a God’s fact. It’s like this: three months ago I crep’ into this burg lookin’ for a match, but the professions was overcrowded, there bein’ fourteen lawyers, a half-dozen doctors, a chiropodist, and forty-three bartenders here ahead of me, not to speak of a tooth-tinker. That there dentist thought he could sprint. He come from some Eastern college and his pa had grub-staked him to a kit of tools and sent him out here to work his way into the confidences and cavities of the Idahobos.
“Well, sir, the minute I seen him I realized he was my custard. He wore sofy cushions on his shoulders, and his coat was cut in at the back. He rolled up his pants, too, and sometimes he sweetened the view in a vi’lent, striped sweater. I watered at the mouth and picked my teeth over him—he was that succ’lent.
“He’d been lookin’ down on these natives and kiddin’ ’em ever since he arrived, and once a week, reg’lar, he tried to frame a race so’s he could wear his runnin’-pants and be a hero. I had no trouble fixin’ things. He was a good little runner, and he done his best; but when I breasted the tape I won a quick-claim deed to his loose change, to a brand-new office over a drug-store, and to enough nickel-plated pliers for a wire-tapper. I staked him to a sleeper ticket, then I moved into his quarters. The tools didn’t have no directions on ’em, but I’ve figgered out how to use most of ’em.”
“I gather that this here practice that you’re buildin’ up ain’t exactly remunerative,” I said to Mike.
“Not yet it ain’t, but I’m widenin’ out. There ain’t a day passes that I don’t learn something. I was out drummin’ up a little trade when your groans convinced me that somebody in here had a jumpin’ toothache. If you ain’t busy, mebbe you can help me get a patient.”
This particular saloon had about wore out its welcome with me, so I was game for any enterprise, and I allowed a little patient-huntin’ would prob’ly do me good. I drawed my six gun and looked her over.
“It’s a new sport, but I bet I’ll take to it,” said I. “What d’you do, crease ’em or cripple ’em?”
“Pshaw! Put up that hearse ticket,” Mike told me. “Us doctors don’t take human life, we save it.”
“I thought you said you was practisin’ on Injuns.”
“Injuns is human. For a fact! I’ve learned a heap in this business. Not that I wouldn’t bust one if I needed him, but it ain’t necessary. Come, I’ll show you.”
This here town had more heathens than whites in it, and before we’d gone a block I seen a buck Injun and his squaw idlin’ along, lookin’ into the store winders. The buck was a hungry, long-legged feller, and when we neared him Mike said to me:
“Hist! There’s one. I’ll slip up and get him from behind. You grab him if he runs.”
This method of buildin’ up a dental practice struck me as some strange, but Butters was a queer guy and this was sort of a rough town. When he got abreast of Mr. Lo, Mike reached out and garnered him by the neck. The Injun pitched some, but Mike eared him down finally, and when I come up I seen that one side of the lad’s face was swelled up something fearful.
“Well, well,” said I. “You’ve sure got the dentist’s eye. You must have spied that swellin’ a block away.”
Mike nodded, then he said: “Poor feller! I’ll bet it aches horrible. My office is right handy; let’s get him in before the marshal sees us.”
We drug the savage up-stairs and into Mike’s dental stable, then we bedded him down in a chair. He protested considerable, but we got him there in a tollable state of preservation, barring the fact that he was skinned up on the corners and we had pulled a hinge off from the office door.
“It’s a shame for a person to suffer thataway,” Mike told me; “but these ignorant aborigines ain’t educated up to the mercies of science. Just put your knee in his stummick, will you? What could be finer than to alleviate pain? The very thought in itself is elevatin’. I’m in this humanity business for life—Grab his feet quick or he’ll kick out the winder.”
“Whoa!” I told the Injun. “Plenty fix-um!” I poked the swellin’ on his face and he let out a yelp.
“It’s lucky we got him before multiplication set in,” Mike assured me. “I lay for ’em that-away at the foot of the stairs every day; but this is the best patient I’ve had. I’ve a notion to charge this one.”
“Don’t you charge all of ’em?” I wanted to know.
“Nope. I got a tin watch off of one patient when he was under gas, but the most of ’em ain’t worth goin’ through. You got to do a certain amount of charity work.”
“Don’t look like much of a business to me,” I said.
“There’s something about it I like,” Mike told me. “It sort of grows on a feller. Now that you’re here to help catch ’em, I calc’late to acquire a lot of skill with these instruments. I’ve been playin’ a lone hand and I’ve had to take little ones that I could handle.”
When Mike produced a pair of nickel-plated nail-pullers, Mr. Injun snorted like a sea-lion, and it took both of us to hold him down; but finally I tied his hair around the head-rest and we had him. His mane was long and I put a hard knot in it, then I set on his moccasins while Doctor Butters pried into his innermost secrets.
“There she is—that big one.” Mike pointed out a tooth that looked like the corner monument to a quartz claim.
“You’re on the wrong side,” I told him.
“Mebbe I am. Here’s one that looks like it would come loose easier.” Mike got a half-Nelson over in the east-half-east quarter-section of the buck’s mouth and throwed his weight on the pliers.
The Injun had pretty well wore himself out by this time, and when he felt those ice-tongs he just stiffened out—an Injun’s dead game that-away; he won’t make a holler when you hurt him. His squaw was hangin’ around with her eyes poppin’ out, but we didn’t pay no attention to her.
Somehow Mike’s pinchers kept jumpin’ the track and at every slip a new wrinkle showed in the patient’s face—patient is the right word, all right—and we didn’t make no more show at loosenin’ that tusk than as if we’d tried to pull up Mount Bill Williams with a silk thread. At last two big tears come into the buck’s eyes and rolled down his cheeks. First time I ever seen one cry.
Now that weakness was plumb fatal to him, for right there and then he cracked his plate with his missus. Yes, sir, he tore his shirt-waist proper. The squaw straightened up and give him a look—oh, what a look!
“Waugh!” she sniffed. “Injun heap big squaw!” And with that she swished out of the office and left him flat. Yes, sir, she just blew him on the spot.
I s’pose Mike would have got that tooth somehow—he’s a perseverin’ party—only that I happened to notice something queer and called him off.
“Here, wait a minute,” said I, and I loosened him from the man’s chest. Mike was so engorsed in the pursuit of his profession that he was astraddle of his patient’s wishbone, gougin’ away like a quartz miner. “Take your elbow out of his mouth and lemme talk to him a minute.” When the savage had got his features together, I said to him, “How you catch um bump, hey?” And I pointed to his jaw.
“Bzz-zz-zz!” said he.
I turned to Doctor Butters. “Hornet!” I declared.
When Mike had sized up the bee-sting he admitted that my diagnosis was prob’ly correct. “That’s the trouble with these patients,” he complained. “They don’t take you into their confidence. Just the same, I’m goin’ to attend to his teeth, for there’s no tellin’ when I’ll catch another one.”
“What’s wrong with his teeth?” I questioned. “They look good to me, except they’re wore down from eatin’ camus. If he was a horse I’d judge him to be about a ten-year-old.”
“You never can tell by lookin’ at teeth what’s inside of ’em. Anyhow, a nice fillin’ would set ’em off. I ain’t tried no fillin’s yet. Gimme that Burley drill.”
I wheeled out a kind of sewing-machine; then I pedaled it while Mike dug into that Injun’s hangin’ wall like he had a round of holes to shoot before quittin’-time. This here was more in my line, bein’ a hard-rock miner myself, and we certainly loaded a fine prospect of gold into that native’s bi-cuspidor. We took his front teeth because they was the easiest to get at.
It was just like I said, this Injun’s white keys was wore off short and looked like they needed something, so we laid ourselves out to supply the want. We didn’t exactly fill them teeth; we merely riveted on a sort of a plowshare—a gold sod-cutter about the size of your finger-nail. How Mike got it to stick I don’t know, but he must have picked up quite a number of dentist’s tricks before I came. Anyhow, there she hung like a brass name-plate, and she didn’t wabble hardly at all. You’d of been surprised to see what a difference it made in that redskin’s looks.
We let our patient up finally and put a lookin’-glass in his hand. At first he didn’t know just what to make of that fillin’; but when he seen it was real gold a grin broke over his face, his chest swelled up, and he walked out of the office and across the street to a novelty store. In a minute out he came with a little round lookin’-glass and a piece of buckskin, and the last we seen of him he was hikin’ down the street, grinnin’ into that mirror as happy as a child and polishin’ that tusk like it had started to rust.
“Which I sure entitle a gratifyin’ operation,” said Mike.
“I’m in no ways proud of the job,” I told him. “I feel like I’d salted a mine.”
Well, me and Mike lived in them dental parlors for a couple of weeks, decoyin’ occasional natives into it, pullin’, spilin’, fillin’, and filin’ more teeth than a few, but bimeby the sport got tame.
One day Mike was fakin’ variations on his guitar, and I was washin’ dishes, when I said: “This line is about as excitin’ as a game of jack-straws. D’you know it’s foot-racin’ time with the Injuns?”
“Sure. They’re gettin’ together at old Port Lewis to run races this week. One tribe or the other goes broke and walks home every year. If we could meet up with the winnin’ crowd, down on the La Plata—”
I didn’t have to say no more, for I had a hackamore on Mike’s attention right there, and he quit climbin’ the “G” string and put up his box.
The next day we traded out of the tooth business and rode south down the old Navajo trail. We picked a good campin’ spot—a little “flat” in a bend of the river where the grazin’ was good—and we turned the ponies out.
We didn’t have to wait long. A few evenings later, as we et supper we heard a big noise around the bend and knew our visitors was comin’. They must of had three hundred head of horses, besides a big outfit of blankets, buckskin, baskets, and all the plunder that an Injun outfit travels with. At sight of us in their campin’-place they halted, and the squaws and the children rode up to get a look at us.
I stepped out in front of our tent and throwed my hand to my forehead, shading my eyes—that’s the Injun sign of friendship. An old chief and a couple of warriors rode forrad, Winchester to pommel, but, seein’ we was alone, they sheathed their guns, and we invited ’em to eat.
It didn’t take much urgin’. While we fed hot biscuits to the head men the squaws pitched camp.
They was plumb elated at their winnin’ up at Fort Lewis, and the gamblin’ fever was on ’em strong, so right after supper they invited us to join ’em in a game of Mexican monte. I let Mike do the card-playin’ for our side, because he’s got a pass which is the despair of many a “tin-horn.” He can take a clean Methodist-Episcopal deck, deal three hands, and have every face card so it’ll answer to its Christian name. No, he didn’t need no lookout, so I got myself into a game of “bounce the stick,” which same, as you prob’ly know, is purely a redskin recreation. You take a handful of twigs in your hand, then throw ’em on to a flat rock endways, bettin’ whether an odd or an even number will fall outside of a ring drawed in the dirt. After a couple of hours Mike strolled up and tipped me the wink that he’d dusted his victims.
“Say,” he began, “there’s the niftiest chicken down here that I ever see.”
“Don’t start any didos with the domestic relations of this tribe,” I told him, “or they’ll spread us out, and spread us thin. Remember, you’re here on business bent, and if you bend back and forrads, from business to pleasure, and versy visa, you’ll bust. These people has scrooplous ideas regardin’ their wives and I respect ’em.”
“She ain’t married,” Mike told me. “She’s the chief’s daughter, and she looks better to me than a silver mine.”
Durin’ that evening we give the impression that we was well heeled, so the tribe wasn’t in no hurry to break camp on the following morning.
Along about noon I missed Mike, and I took a stroll to look for him. I found him—and the chief’s daughter—alongside of a shady trout pool. She was weavin’ a horsehair bracelet onto his wrist, and I seen the flash of his ring on her finger. Mike could travel some.
He was a bit flustered, it seemed to me, and he tried to laugh the matter off, but the girl didn’t. There was something about the look of her that I didn’t like. I’ve seen a whole lot of trouble come from less than a horsehair bracelet. This here quail was mebbe seventeen; she was slim and shy, and she had big black eyes and a skin like velvet. I spoke to Mike in words of one syllable, and I drug him away with me to our tent.
That afternoon some half-grown boys got to runnin’ foot-races and Mike entered. He let ’em beat him, then he offered to bet a pony that they couldn’t do it again. The kids was game, and they took him quick. Mike faked the race, of course, and lost his horse, that bein’ part of our progam.
When it was all over I seen the chief’s daughter had been watchin’ us, but she didn’t say nuthin’. The next mornin’, however, when we got up we found a bully pinto pony tied to one of our tent stakes.
“Look who’s here,” said I. “Young Minnie Ha-ha has made good your losin’s.”
“That pony is worth forty dollars,” said Mike.
“Sure. And you’re as good as a squaw-man this minute. You’re betrothed.”
“Am I?” The idy didn’t seem to faze Mike. “If that’s the case,” said he, “I reckon I’ll play the string out. I sort of like it as far as I’ve gone.”
“I wish she’d gave us that cream-colored mare or hers,” I said. “It’s worth two of this one.”
“I’ll get it to-day,” Mike declared. And sure enough, he lost another foot-race, and the next morning the cream-colored mare was picketed in front of our tent.
Well, this didn’t look good to me, and I told Mike so. I never was much of a hand to take money from women, so I served a warnin’ on him that if we didn’t get down to business pretty quick and make our clean-up I proposed to leave him flat on his back.
That day the young men of the tribe did a little foot-runnin’, and Mike begged ’em to let him in. It was comical to see how pleased they was. They felt so sure of him that they began pro-ratin’ our belongin’s among one another. They laid out a half-mile course, and everybody in camp went out to the finish-line to see the contest and to bet on it. The old chief acted as judge, bookmaker, clerk of the course, referee, and stakeholder. I s’pose by the time the race was ready to start there must of been fifty ponies up, besides a lot of money, but the old bird kept every wager in his head. He rolled up a couple of blankets and placed ’em on opposite sides of the track, and showed us by motions that the first man between ’em would be declared the winner. All the money that had been bet he put in little piles on a blanket; then he give the word to get ready.
I had no trouble layin’ our money at one to five, and our ponies at the same odds; then, when everything was geared up, I called Mike from his tent. Say, when he opened the fly and stepped out there was a commotion, for all he had on was his runnin’-trunks and his spiked shoes. The Injuns was in breech-cloths and moccasins, and, of course, they created no comment; but the sight of a half-nekked white man was something new to these people, and the first flash they got at Mike’s fancy togs told ’em they’d once more fell a victim to the white man’s wiles.
They was wise in a minute, and some of the young hot-bloods was for smokin’ us up, but the chief was a sport—I got to give the old bird credit. He rared back on his hind legs and made a stormy palaver; as near as I could judge he told his ghost-dancers they’d been cold-decked, but he expected ’em to take their medicine and grin, and, anyhow, it was a lesson to ’em. Next time they’d know better’n to monkey with strangers. Whatever it was he said, he made his point, and after a right smart lot of powwowin’ the entertainment proceeded. But Mike and me was as popular with them people as a couple of polecats at a picnic.
Mike certainly made a picture when he lined up at the start; he stood out like a marble statue in a slate quarry. I caught a glimpse of the chief’s daughter, and her eyes was bigger than ever, and she had her hands clinched at her side. He must have looked like a god to her; but, for that matter, he was a sight to turn any untamed female heart, whether the owner et Belgian hare off of silver service or boiled jack-rabbit out of a coal-oil can. Women are funny thataway.
It’s a pot-hunter’s maxim never to win by a big margin, but to nose out his man at the finish. This Mike did, winnin’ by a yard; then he acted as if he was all in—faked a faint, and I doused him with a sombrero of water from the creek. It was a spectacular race, at that, for at the finish the runners was bunched till a blanket would of covered ’em. When they tore into the finish I seen the chief’s girl do a trick. Mike was runnin’ on the outside, and when nobody was watchin’ her the little squaw kicked one of them blanket bundles about two feet down the course, givin’ Mike that much the “edge.” She done it clever and it would have throwed a close race.
Them savages swallered their physic and grinned, like the chief had told ’em, and they took it standin’ up. They turned over the flower of their pony herd to us, not to mention about six quarts of silver money and enough blankets to fill our tent. The old chief patted Mike on the back, then put both hands to his temples with his fingers spread out, as much as to say, “He runs like a deer.”
Bimeby a buck stepped up and begun makin’ signs. He pointed to the sun four times, and we gathered that he wanted us to wait four days until he could go and get another man.
Mike tipped me the wink, sayin’: “They’re goin’ after the champeen of the tribe. That phony faint of mine done it. Will we wait? Why, say, we’d wait four years, wouldn’t we? Sweet pickin’s, I call it. Champeen, huh?”
“For me, I’d wait here till I was old folks,” I said. “I don’t aim to leave these simple savages nothin’. Nothin’ at all, but a lot of idle regrets.”
Well, sir, there was a heap of excitement in that camp for the next three days. All them Injuns done, was to come and look at Mike and feel of his legs and argue with one another. The first night after the race Mike tuned up his guitar, and later on I heard snatches of the “Spanish Fandango” stealin’ up from the river bank. I knew what was on; I knew without lookin’ that the old chief’s girl was right there beside him, huggin’ her knees and listenin’ with both ears. I didn’t like to think about it, for she was a nice little yearlin’, and it looked to me like Mike was up to his usual devilment. Seemed like a low-down trick to play on an injunoo like her, and the more I studied it the warmer I got. It was a wonderful night; the moonlight drenched the valley, and there was the smell of camp-fires and horses over everything—just the sort of a night for a guitar, just the sort of a night to make your blood run hot and to draw you out into the glitter and make you race with your shadow.
When Mike moseyed in, along about ten o’clock, he was plumb loco; the moon-madness was on him strong. His eyes was as bright as silver coins, and his voice had a queer ring to it.
“What a night!” said he. “And what a life this is Lord! I’m tired of pot-huntin’. I’ve trimmed suckers till I’m weary; I’ve toted a gold brick in my pocket till my clothes bag. I’m sick of it. I’m goin’ to beat this Injun champeen, take my half of our winnin’s, sell off the runty ones, and settle down.”
“Where do you aim to settle?” I inquired.
“Oh, anywhere hereabouts. These are good people, and I like ’em.”
“You mean you’re goin’ to turn out with the Injuns?” I inquired, with my mouth open. Mike had led so sudden that he had me over the ropes.
“I’m goin’ to do that very little thing,” he declared. “I dunno how to talk much Navajo, but I’m learnin’ fast, and she got my meanin’. We understand each other, and we’ll do better as time goes on. She calls me ‘Emmike’! Sweet, ain’t it?” He heaved a sigh, then he gargled a laugh that sounded like boilin’ mush. “It ain’t often a feller like me gets a swell little dame that worships him. Horses, guns, camp-fires! Can you beat it?”
“If that squaw had a soft palate or a nose like a eeclair, you wouldn’t be so keen for this simple life,” I told him. “She has stirred up your wickedness, Mike, and you’ve gone nutty. You’re moon-crazy, that’s all. You cut it out.”
I argued half the night; but the more I talked the more I seen that Mike was stuck to be a renegade. It’s a fact. If he hadn’t of been a nice kid I’d of cut his hobbles and let him go; but—pshaw! Mike Butters could run too fast to be wasted among savages, and, besides, it’s a terrible thing for a white man to marry an Injun. The red never dies out in the woman, but the white in the man always changes into a dirty, muddy red. I laid awake a long while tryin’ to figger out a way to block his game, but the only thing I could think of was to tie him up and wear out a cinch on him. Just as I was dozin’ off I had an idy. I didn’t like it much at first; I had to swaller hard to down it, but the more I studied it the better it looked, so for fear I’d weaken I rolled over and went to sleep.
Mike was in earnest, and so was the girl; that much I found out the next day. And she must of learned him enough Navajo to propose marriage with, and he must of learned her enough English to say “yes,” for she took possession of our camp and begun to order me around. First thing she lugged our Navajo blankets to the creek, washed ’em, then spread ’em over some bushes and beat ’em with a stick until they were as clean and soft as thistle-down. I’ll admit she made a pleasant picture against the bright colors of them blankets, and I couldn’t altogether blame Mike for losin’ his head. He’d lost it, all right. Every time she looked at him out of them big black eyes he got as wabbly as clabber. It was plumb disgustin’.
That evenin’ he give her a guitar lesson. Now Mike himself was a sad musician, and the sound of him fandangoin’ uncertainly up and down the fretful spine of that instrument was a tribulation I’d put up with on account of friendship, pure and simple, but when that discord-lovin’ lady cliff-dweller set all evenin’ in our tent and scraped snake-dances out of them catguts with a fish-bone, I pulled my freight and laid out in the moonlight with the dogs.
Mike’s infatuation served one purpose, though; he spent so much time with the squab that it give me an opportunity to work out my scheme. That guitar lesson showed me that vig’rous measures was necessary, so I dug up a file, a shoemaker’s needle and some waxed thread, all of which we had in our kit.
On the fourth morning there was a stir in the camp, and we knew that the courier had got back with his runner. Pretty soon the whole village stormed up to our tent in a body.
“Let’s go out and look him over,” I said.
“What’s the use of lookin’ at him?” Mike inquired. “All Injuns look alike—except one.”
I pulled back the tent fly and stepped out; then I called to Mike, for the first thing I seen was that gold fillin’ of ours. Yes, sir, right there, starin’ me in the eye, was the sole and shinin’ monument to me and Mike’s brief whirl at the science of dentistry. The face surroundin’ it was stretched wide and welcome, and the minute this here new-comer reco’nized me, he drawed back his upper lip and pointed proudly to his ornament, then he dug up his lookin’-glass and his polishin’-rag and begun to dust it off. It was plain to be seen that he thought more of it than his right eye. And it impressed the other Injuns, too; they crowded up and studied it. They took turns feelin’ of it, especially the squaws, and I bet if we’d had our dentist outfit with us we could of got rich right there. The chief’s daughter, in particular, was took with the beauties of that gew-gaw, and she made signs to us that she wanted one just like it.
“I never noticed he was so rangy,” Mike told me, when he’d sized up the new arrival. “Say, this guy looks good. He’s split plumb to the larynx and I bet he can run, for all of that wind-shield.”
I noticed that Mike was pretty grave when he come back in the tent, and more than once that day I caught him lookin’ at the champeen, sort of studyin’ him out. But for that matter this new party was gettin’ his full share of attention; everywhere he went there was a trail of kids at his heels, and every time he opened his mouth he made a hit with the grown folks. The women just couldn’t keep their eyes offen him, and I seen that Mike was gettin’ pretty sore.
In the evenin’ he made a confession that tipped off the way his mind was workin’. “This is the first time I ever felt nervous before a race,” said he. “Mebbe it’s because it’s goin’ to be my last race; mebbe it’s because that Injun knows me and ain’t scared of me. Anyhow, I’m scared of him. That open-faced, Elgin-movement buck has got me tickin’ fast.”
“That ain’t what’s got your goat,” I told him.
“Your cooin’ dove is dazzled by that show of wealth, and you know it.”
“Hell! She’s just curious, that’s all. She’s just a kid. I—I wish I’d of known who he was when I treated him. I’d of drove a horse-shoe nail in his knee.”
But all the same Mike looked worried.
It rained hard that night, and the next morning the grass was pretty wet. Mike tried it, first thing, and come back grinnin’ till the top of his head was an island.
“That sod is so slippery old Flyin’ Cloud can’t get a good stride in his moccasins. Me, I can straddle out and take holt with my spikes. Them spikes is goin’ to put us on easy street. You see! I don’t care how good he is, they’re goin’ to give me four hundred head of broncs and a cute little pigeon to look out for ’em. Me, I’m goin’ to lay back and learn to play the guitar. I’m goin’ to learn it by note.”
“You sure got the makin’s of a squaw-man,” I told him. “Seems like I’ve over-read your hand. I used to think you had somethin’ in you besides a appetite, but I was wrong. You’re plumb cultus, Mike.”
“Don’t get sore,” he grinned. “I got my chance to beat the game and I’m goin’ to take it. I can’t run foot-races, and win ’em, all my life. Some day I’ll step in my beard and sprain my ankle. Ambition’s a funny thing. I got the ambition to quit work. Besides, she—you know—she’s got a dimple you could lay your finger in. You’d ought to hear her say ‘Emmike’; it’s certainly cute.”
We bet everything we had—everything except that pinto pony and the cream-colored mare. I held them two out, for I figgered we was goin’ to need ’em and need ’em bad, if my scheme worked out.
The course—it was a quarter-mile, straight-away—was laid out along the bottom-land where the grass was thick and short. Me and the chief and his girl set on a blanket among the little piles of silver, and the rest of the merry villagers lined up close to the finish-line. We white men had been the prime attraction up till now, but it didn’t take me long to see that we wasn’t any more. Them people was all wrapped up in the lad with the gold name-plate, and they was rootin’ for him frantic. Last thing he done was to give his eighteen-carat squaw-catcher the once-over with his buckskin buffer, then he shined it at the chief’s girl and trotted down to the startin’-line. I noticed that she glued her big-and-liquids on him and kept ’em there.
It was beautiful to watch those two men jockey for a start; the Injun was lean and hungry and mighty smart—but Mike was smarter still. Of course he got the jump.
It was a pretty start, and Mike held his lead for fifty yards or more. I’ll admit I was worked up. I’ve had my heart in my mouth so often over his races that it’s wore smooth from swallerin’, but this time it just wouldn’t go down. Our dental patient was runnin’ an awful race, but it looked like Mike had him; then, just as the boy settled down and reached out into that long, strong stride of his’n, something happened. He slipped. He would have fell, except that he caught himself. The next second he slipped again, and Mr. “Man in Love with a Gold Fillin'” passed him.
With that them Injuns begun to speak. Some of their yells brought hunks of throat with ’em, and that whole region begun to echo as far south as the Rio Bravo.
My scheme had worked, all right. You see, when Mike was doin’ his heavy courtin’ I’d planted my ace in the hole; I’d took off the outer soles of his runnin’-shoes and filed the spikes almost in two, close up to the plate. When I sewed the leather back on, it never showed, but the minute he struck his gait they broke with him and he begin to miss his pull. He might have won at that, for he’s got the heart of a lion, but I s’pose the surprise did as much as anything else to beat him. It made my heart bleed to see the fight he put up, but he finished six feet to the bad and fell across the mark on his face, sobbin’ like a child. It’s the game ones that cry when they’re licked; analyze a smilin’ loser and you’ll find the yellow streak. I lifted him to his feet, but he was shakin’ like a bush in the wind.
“Them shoes!” he wailed. “Them damned shoes!” Then he busted out again and blubbered like a kid.
Right then I done some actin’; but, pshaw! anybody can act when he has to. If I’d of overplayed my hand a nickel’s worth he’d of clumb up me like a rat up a rafter and there would of been human reminders all over that neighborhood. Not but what I would have got him eventually, bein’ as I had my side-arms, but I liked Mike and I wouldn’t kill nobody if I was sober.
It happened that he fell right at the feet of the chief’s girl, and when I lifted him up he seen her. But, say, it must have been a shock to him. Her eyes was half shut, her head was throwed back, and she was hissin’ like a rattlesnake. Mike stiffened and sort of pawed at her, but she drawed away just like that other squaw in our dentist office had drawed away from her liege lord and master.
“Waugh! White man heap squaw!” said she, and with that she flirted her braids and turned to the winner of the race. She went up to him and lifted his lip with her thumb like she just had to have another look at his gold tooth, then she smiled up into his face and they walked away together without a glance in our direction.
Mike follered a step or two, then he stopped and stared around at the crowd. It was a big minute for him, and for me, too, and I’ll prob’ly never forget the picture of that pantin’ boy at bay among them grinnin’ barbarians. The curs was yappin’ at his heels, the squaws was gigglin’ and makin’ faces, the bucks was showin’ their teeth and pointin’ at his tears.
Mike never said a word. He just stooped down and peeled off his runnin’-shoes, then he throwed ’em as far as he could, right out into the river. “Who the hell would marry a dame like that?” he sobbed. “She’s stuck on his jewelry.”
“Come on, lad,” said I; and I led him to our tent. Then, while he put on his clothes, I saddled the pinto pony and the cream-colored mare, for it was six days to the railroad.